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Baboons in lab coats urge salt shake-up

December 10, 2007

by Ivan Raconteur

Despite the fact that the FDA is incapable of keeping the food supply safe from E. coli and other nasty stuff, it seems poised to take on yet another battle.

The American Medical Association (AMA) recently asked the FDA to set strict limits on salt in processed foods.

It says Americans consume too much salt.

What we really get too much of is interference from bureaucratic busybodies.

The AMA claims that salt contributes to a variety of health problems, including hypertension.

The thing that raises my blood pressure is a bunch of baboons in lab coats telling me what I can or cannot do.

The AMA wants the government to regulate the amount of salt that is allowed in food because, according to one representative, Americans consume salt unknowingly when they buy processed foods or eat in restaurants.

Here is a little news flash for the AMA: people don’t select salty foods because they think they are healthy; they choose them because they are convenient, inexpensive, and because people like the taste.

It is not a matter of not understanding which foods are good for us, and it is often not a matter of a lack of choice.

These days, most restaurants, even fast food establishments, offer some reasonably healthy choices if we take the time to look for them.

Instead of eating out, we can even pack a lunch, which is likely to result in healthier choices and cost savings.

We may not always make the best decisions when it comes to our food choices, but this does not mean we need some political pinhead to make our decisions for us.

If the FDA wants to embark on some new educational campaign, or wants to improve product labeling, they can knock themselves out. But, when it comes to dictating how much salt manufacturers and restaurants can use, that is going too far.

The AMA wants to cut our salt intake by at least 50 percent within 10 years, which seems like a radical change.

Salt is only one small part of our diet. It may not be all that good for us in large quantities, but legislating its use is not going to provide some magic solution to America’s health problems.

If we were all to eat regular meals, choose a balanced diet, limit our intake of junk food and sweets, drink plenty of water, and exercise regularly, we would very likely be healthier, but this is a matter of individual choice and personal responsibility, not a matter for governmental regulation.

According to some sources, Americans currently consume about 4,000 milligrams of salt per day, double the amount recommended by the government, which suggests that a lot of people don’t really care what the government wants them to eat.

The role of government does not include spending tax dollars to figure out how much salt people should be allowed to consume, or to employ secret salt police to monitor our saltshakers.

While we are on the subject, we don’t need the government to set limits on fat or caffeine content, either. The way things are going, it is just a matter of time before someone tries to get the government to restrict these ingredients as well.

If the health freaks had their way, they would ban anything that adds any flavor or excitement to our lives. This might make us healthy as horses, but we would all end up dying of boredom.

One would not suggest that consuming salt by the tablespoon is a salubrious practice, nor would one suggest that there is necessarily anything wrong with a healthy, balanced diet, boring though it may be.

The fact is, I agree that in most cases, less salt is better. When we use less salt, and opt for herbs and spices to flavor our food instead, not only does food taste better, but, once our palate recovers, we are able to appreciate subtle differences in flavor.

However, one of the perks of living in a free-ish country is that we get to decide what we will or won’t eat. We don’t need bureaucrats poking their beaks into our kitchens or hanging around our dinner tables.

If the FDA really needs something to do, maybe it could work on keeping the really nasty things out of our food supply.

Given a choice, I would much rather contend with too much salt in my food than have to worry about things like E. coli or salmonella.

Perhaps if the FDA focussed on these food safety issues, we wouldn’t need to have another massive food recall every five minutes.

It might even keep a few people from getting sick.

It may be years before the FDA takes any action on the AMA proposal, but it would seem that the agency has plenty to do while it considers the matter.